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Hot days mean more air pollution – and potential health risks

Air pollution is visible in this view of the St. Louis skyline.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Air pollution is visible in this view of the St. Louis skyline.

Warming temperatures may have you wanting to spend more time outdoors. But warm weather can mean more unhealthy air.

Susannah Fuchs of the American Lung Association says our region’s sunny, hot, nearly windless summer weather creates the perfect conditions for the formation of ozone – the main component of smog.

And Fuchs says we’re also hit hard by particulate pollution:“The very, very fine dust that can easily bypass the body’s natural defenses and get into lungs and even bloodstream and cause all kinds of respiratory effects and also cardiac effects."

Fuchs says children, the elderly, people who work outdoors, and people with respiratory problems are most at risk, but that everyone should avoid outdoor activities during times of peak air pollution.

She says people can help reduce air pollution by staying off the roads during hot weather.

“Vehicle emissions, mobile sources they’re called, things that come from combustion and on-road sources are one of the biggest places that those pollutant precursors come from,” Fuchs said. “And that’s also one of the places individuals have most control over.”

A recent American Lung Association report ranked the St. Louis area 10th worst in the nation for particulate pollution, and 34th for ozone.

You can track St. Louis air pollution in real time, sign up for air quality alerts, and find links to more information here.